A wok isn't just another pan — it's one of the most adaptable and versatile tools in the kitchen.
Whether you're a professional chef or a home cook looking to elevate your meals, we're here to walk you through choosing, using, and seasoning your wok to perfection with help from expert chef Peter Sidwell.
What is a wok?
A wok is a rounded pan with high edges, primarily used in Asian cuisine. It's designed for everything from stir-frying to deep-frying, ensuring even and fast cooking thanks to the deep walls that trap heat.
Although it's historically rooted in Asian traditions, a wok has become an essential tool for chefs worldwide who appreciate its efficiency and adaptability, making cooking a breeze!
How to choose a wok
Peter explains the first thing he considers when choosing a wok: "I always look for a good solid design — something robust and just the right size. There needs to be enough space in the wok for the ingredients to cook properly. Without enough room, the ingredients essentially simmer in their own juices, leading to a stew-like consistency instead of getting that beautiful crisp texture."
But what other features should you keep in mind when buying a wok?
The choice of material for your wok is pivotal, as it can influence cooking techniques, flavour retention, and maintenance.
The most common wok materials include:
- Carbon steel — Carbon steel is celebrated for its quick heat responsiveness. It's also lightweight, durable and seasons beautifully over time, building a natural non-stick layer that adds depth to dishes. It gets better with use!
- Cast iron — Cast iron woks have a high density, making them great for holding onto heat. This means while they might take a little longer to get hot, they stay hot, ensuring your food cooks evenly. They're heavy-duty, and with the right care, they'll form a seasoned layer, much like carbon steel, enhancing flavours over time.
- Stainless steel — These woks are known for their resistance to rust, thanks to the high chromium content, which forms a protective layer on the surface, preventing oxygen from getting to the iron. This makes them not only good-looking but long-lasting. However, because of their smooth surface, stainless steel woks won't develop the seasoning layer that carbon steel or cast iron woks do.
- Non-stick — For those who prioritise ease of use and cleaning, non-stick woks are a go-to as they prevent food from sticking to the surface. This provides a hassle-free experience, especially for beginners. However, care needs to be taken to avoid scratching the surface.
- Cast aluminium — Cast aluminium woks combine the benefits of cast iron, such as heat retention, with a lighter weight for easier handling.
Peter says, "a carbon steel wok is my preferred choice, as it has that perfect heat distribution and seasons beautifully. As the wok is used, it accumulates a rich seasoning layer that prevents sticking and truly brings out the flavours in food. Plus, it's the traditional choice and can help you replicate authentic flavours and cooking techniques commonly associated with Asian dishes.”
“I'm also a fan of a non-stick wok, especially on my induction hob, as it heats up quickly due to its efficient heat conductivity. The non-stick surface also reduces the risk of food sticking and burning."
There are two types of wok shapes, including:
- Round-bottomed — A round-bottomed wok has a classic curved shape that's great for the famous ’toss and cook’ style used in Asian stir-frying. The rounded shape concentrates heat at the centre, creating a hot zone perfect for fast cooking. This concentrated heat, combined with the curved sides, allows you to quickly toss and stir ingredients, ensuring even cooking and intense flavours. It's the traditional choice but needs a wok ring or special burner to stay stable on your stovetop.
- Flat-bottomed — A flat-bottomed wok has a level base that works well on modern stovetops like electric or induction cooktops. It's steady and won't wobble while you cook, perfect for everyday cooking and all sorts of techniques. The even surface spreads heat nicely and lets you manage ingredients easily without needing any extra gear. This style is super handy if you want to use a wok on your regular stovetop setup.
Peter says, "I prefer using a flat-bottomed wok since I have induction hobs both at home and in my studio kitchen. The flat bottom on the wok works really well with induction, providing rapid and consistent heat.”
“However, flat-bottomed designs won't allow the same level of tossing and flipping motions useful for Asian stir-frying. So choosing between these two woks shapes really depends on your cooking style, the types of dishes you enjoy preparing, and your kitchen setup."
To learn more, read our guide on how to choose the perfect induction pan for your kitchen.
When it comes to handles for your wok, you typically have two choices:
- Single, long-handled (Northern-style) wok — This style is commonly associated with Northern Chinese woks. The long handle allows for easy manoeuvring and control while cooking. It's great for techniques like flipping and tossing ingredients, giving you a good grip during high-heat cooking.
- Two small handles (Cantonese-style) wok — This design has two small handles, one on either side of the wok, offering stability and balance when lifting and moving the pan. And this is particularly useful when you're working with heavier loads or when you need to hold the wok with both hands. The two-handle setup also allows for controlled pouring and steady cooking without requiring a lot of wrist movement.
While personal preference plays a role, Peter suggests opting for a single handle: "For me, a single handle provides that perfect balance. Holding the wok with one hand and stirring with the other gives me precise control and, therefore, confidence in the cooking process. And when it comes to cooking, confidence is key — it's the secret ingredient to great dishes!"
Tips for cooking with a wok
1. Prepare your ingredients before cooking
Peter explains why prep is key: "Before you start cooking, make sure all your ingredients are washed, chopped, and ready to go. Having everything prepped in advance ensures you can focus solely on cooking when the wok hits the heat.”
“You should also think about the order in which your veggies will cook, as they will all take different times. It's best to start off with thicker ingredients first, such as carrots, and then toss in the veggies that will cook quicker, such as onions and peppers, at the end. To keep things flowing smoothly, you can even line up your ingredients in individual bowls or on a chopping board in the order they'll go into the wok."
2. Dry your ingredients
If you've washed your ingredients, ensure they're completely dry before adding to the wok. Excess moisture can turn your stir-fry into a steamed dish, potentially making the ingredients soggy instead of achieving that delightful crispiness and browning that stir-frying is all about. If necessary, use a paper towel or tea towel to pat them dry.
3. Preheat the wok
Peter says, "get your wok hot before adding any ingredients — really hot! Stir-frying is all about high heat, so don't be shy about turning the burner up to its highest setting."
The wok's ability to cook at high temperatures is what sets it apart and gives you that delightful wok hei flavour: a smoky, charred taste characteristic of classic stir-fried dishes.
4. Use the right oil
“The best oil for a wok is one with a high smoke point, like peanut, canola, vegetable and grapeseed oils,” explains Peter. “These oils can handle the high temperatures required for stir-frying without burning or smoking excessively. And this means your food is less likely to stick to the wok or develop a burnt taste.”
5. Don’t overfill your wok
Peter says, "it's tempting to chuck in all your ingredients at once, but overcrowding the wok can lead to excessive moisture, steaming the food instead of stir-frying.”
“When cooked properly, food that has been stir-fried should be crisp on the outside but still tender and juicy on the inside. To achieve this balance, cook in smaller batches to ensure each ingredient has enough space. Start by adding your meat first; it requires some breathing room to sear properly and lock in those rich flavours. And once the meat has had its moment, introduce your veggies into the mix."
6. Master the flip
If you're feeling adventurous, practise the art of flipping the ingredients in the wok. It not only looks impressive but also helps distribute heat evenly for consistent cooking.
Peter tells us how to flip perfectly: "Hold the wok handle firmly and lift your wok off the burner slightly. Then, tilt it toward you at a slight angle so the food moves towards the edge of the wok closest to you. In one swift, controlled motion, push the wok away from you and then lift it upward while giving it a slight shake. The goal is to toss the ingredients into the air and then catch them as they fall back into the pan."
Initially, it may take some practice to get the right technique and timing. It's a good idea to start with small, lightweight ingredients like diced veggies or thinly sliced meat to practise your flipping skills.
And the good news is you can still practise this technique even if you're using an induction hob. Just be more mindful of the flat cooking surface and be cautious not to scratch it. You can always use a spatula or turner to flip if you're not confident.
How to clean a wok
To clean your wok after use, follow these simple steps:
Let it cool — Allowing your wok to cool after cooking will reduce the risk of burns during the cleaning process. It can also help preserve the seasoning layer, as sudden temperature changes, such as adding cold water while it's still hot, can damage this non-stick coating.
Rinse — "Rinse your wok with warm water and a tiny bit of soap," says Peter. "You should avoid scrubbing unless absolutely necessary. But if there is stubborn food stuck to your pan, use a soft cleaning brush to gently remove it."
Wipe it clean — "Use a damp cloth to wipe away any excess water," says Peter.
Dry — Dry your wok thoroughly with a paper towel or tea towel. "This step is particularly important if your wok is made of materials like carbon steel or cast iron, which can rust when exposed to moisture," says Peter. "To make sure it is completely dry, you can place it back on the hob over medium to high heat for a couple of minutes."
To learn more cleaning tips, read our step-by-step guide on how to deep clean your kitchen.
How to season a wok
Peter says, "seasoning a wok is a crucial step in its care and maintenance, especially for woks made of materials like carbon steel or cast iron. It's not about adding salt and pepper, but rather creating a natural non-stick surface that enhances the flavours of your dishes and prevents ingredients from sticking when cooking at high temperatures."
Here's how to season your wok:
Dry thoroughly — After washing, ensure the wok is completely dry. Any moisture left on the surface can hinder the seasoning process.
Choose the right oil — Select an oil with a high smoke point, such as peanut oil, canola oil, or vegetable oil. Avoid oils with low smoke points, like olive oil, as they may smoke excessively, creating unpleasant odours and potentially compromise the quality of the seasoning.
Apply oil — Pour a tablespoon of your chosen oil into the wok and use a paper towel or cloth to spread it evenly across the entire interior surface, including the sides and the bottom.
Heat gradually — Place the wok on a burner over low to medium heat. Allow the oil to heat gradually, and make sure to move the wok around to evenly distribute the heat. This process can take around 15-20 minutes.
Watch for changes — As the wok heats, you'll notice changes in the oil's appearance. It will start to smoke, darken, and develop a glossy finish. This is a sign that the seasoning process is occurring. Continue heating for about 15-20 minutes or until the entire surface has transformed.
Cool down and store — Turn off the heat and let the wok cool down naturally. When storing your wok, it’s best not to stack anything inside of it — especially if the surface is still a bit tacky, as this could rub it away. If you’re limited on space, you could stack it with pots and pans by placing a paper towel or tea towel to protect the seasoned surface.
With regular use, the natural non-stick seasoning on your wok might deteriorate, especially if it's been exposed to soap or abrasive scrubbing. If you notice your food starting to stick more than usual or if the wok's surface appears dull and patchy, it's probably time for a re-seasoning.
Peter explains how to do this: "Clean and dry your wok as usual before heating it on the stove until it turns a matt grey colour. Then, wipe a tablespoon of oil around the inside of your wok with a piece of kitchen roll, making sure you wipe away the excess oil. This provides a protective coating to prevent rust."
Over time, a carbon steel wok will turn from shiny silver to light brown to a beautiful matte shade of black. A dark black surface is an indication of a well-seasoned wok.
What are the best ways to cook in a wok?
Woks are incredibly versatile kitchen tools, and their unique shape and design make them suitable for a wide range of culinary creations. Here are some of the dishes and cooking techniques you can explore with a wok:
The obvious choice: stir-fries are a traditional dish to cook in a wok. Besides — that's what they were made for!
The wok's deep, curved shape is specifically designed for high heat, making it ideal for the quick searing that stir-fries require. The result: beautifully crispy exteriors with a juicy middle, all bursting with rich, savoury flavours. Just the way it should be!
Why not try our mushroom, broccoli and tofu stir-fry recipe? It's perfect for a quick weeknight dinner!
The wok's wide mouth and deep base mean you get optimal heat distribution, making your fish and chips or chicken wings deliciously golden and crunchy. Perfect if you're cooking up a fakeaway meal at home! Plus, the high sides of a wok keep oil splatter to a minimum.
Peter gives us his tips for deep-frying: "You should always cook in small batches as adding too many ingredients at once can cause a significant drop in oil temperature, leading to uneven cooking and a less crispy result.
It's also best to change the oil halfway through. Over time, tiny bits of batter or food particles accumulate and can burn, giving your dish an unpleasant taste."
“With the addition of bamboo steamers, a wok can be transformed into a multi-level steaming station, ideal for dishes like dim sum, steamed fish, or bao buns,” says Peter. “The deep design of the wok is super handy, allowing for enough water to steam for a decent stretch without needing constant top-ups."
Setting up a bamboo steamer in a wok is simple, and here's how you do it:
Fill your wok with water — Start by filling your wok around one-third to one-half full with water and bringing it to a gentle boil.
Load your food — Line your bamboo steamer with parchment paper or cabbage leaves to prevent sticking and arrange the food in a single layer on top. Ensure there's some space between the items for the steam to circulate evenly.
Elevate your steamer (if needed) — Peter says, "the key is to ensure the water level remains just below the bottom of the bamboo steamer when it's placed inside the wok. This ensures that the food gets steamed but doesn't get wet. You can place a metal trivet or a small heat-proof rack at the bottom to elevate the bamboo steamer.
Position the steamer — Once you've got the water level sorted, place the bamboo steamer inside the wok, ensuring it sits stably and doesn't wobble.
Cover — Place the bamboo lid on top of the steamer.
Steam — Allow your food to steam, checking periodically to ensure the water hasn't boiled away. If it's running low, add more boiling water carefully to avoid reducing the steam's temperature.
Remove your food — When removing the bamboo lid, be sure to tilt it away from you to prevent steam burns. You should also use oven gloves to handle the steamer, as it'll be hot.
Peter says, "believe it or not, you can make popcorn in a wok! Its wide surface area and deep sides are perfect for popping kernels without overcrowding. You can also use a wok to make roasted nuts, crispy rice snacks, and other homemade treats."
To make popcorn in a wok, follow these steps:
Prepare your wok — Place your wok on the stove and turn the heat to medium.
Add oil — Pour two to three tablespoons of oil into the wok (preferably one with a high smoke point like vegetable or canola oil), ensuring it spreads evenly over the surface.
Test the oil — Drop a single popcorn kernel into the oil. Once it pops, the oil is hot enough to add the rest of the kernels.
Add the kernels — Pour the popcorn kernels into the wok in an even layer. Try not to overcrowd the wok; the kernels should all be in contact with the base of the wok for even heating.
Cover the wok — Cover the wok with a lid. If your wok doesn't have a lid, you can use a large metal or heat-resistant glass lid from another pot.
Shake the wok — Every 10-15 seconds, carefully shake the wok back and forth on the burner. This will prevent the kernels from burning and ensure even popping.
Listen for the pops — Once the popping sounds become infrequent (about two seconds between pops), remove the wok from the heat.
Season — Pour your popcorn into a bowl and season with salt or whatever you fancy!
To drain, simply transfer the pasta from the wok into a colander or large sieve placed over the sink. Then, you can even combine your sauce directly with the pasta inside the wok, stirring it with a wooden spoon or pasta fork to ensure it's all coated.
Best woks and accessories
Best for larger dishes: MasterClass Carbon Steel 355cm Wok
Elevate your cooking game with this carbon steel wok by MasterClass. It's compatible with various heat sources, including induction, gas, and ceramic, and can brave oven temperatures up to 250°C! Plus, it's dishwasher safe, making washing up a breeze.
Peter says, "this wok is ideal for the modern home cook; its non-stick surface combined with a flat bottom ensures compatibility with induction cooktops. It's also the perfect size for cooking for the family!"
Best for convenience: MasterClass Set of 2 Cast Aluminium Frying Pans
Peter says, "this is a great set of three pans that will become your go-to. Having different sizes is super convenient — you can simultaneously steam dumplings, sauté vegetables, and sear a steak, streamlining your cooking and serving up varied dishes with ease. And thanks to the double non-stick coating, there's no need for excess oil, making meals healthier."
You'll also see a significant cut in your usual cooking duration. The secret to their speed lies in the steel induction base and cast aluminium body, which spreads heat quickly and evenly.
Best for achieving grill marks: MasterClass 2pc Non-Stick Cast Aluminium Pan Set with Grill Pan
The set is designed to mimic high-temperature professional cast iron woks but with improvements to make it perfectly suited to induction cooking.
"The cast aluminium is strong, lightweight, and has excellent heat-transferring properties, achieving sizzling hot food fast," says Peter. "And the addition of a grill pan means you can give meat, fish and poultry grill house-style char lines!"
Best for handling food: KitchenAid Slotted Turner Heat-Resistant Non-Stick
Best for turning food: MasterClass 18cm Food Tongs
"These MasterClass tongs are great for multiple tasks in the kitchen, whether it's picking up a steak from the pan or flipping veggies," says Peter.
The short-handled design ensures precise control, and the integrated grip ridges make them really comfortable to hold.
Choose your new favourite wok today at CookServeEnjoy
Whether your current wok is showing signs of wear and needs replacing, or you're eager to delve into the world of wok cooking for the first time, we have the perfect selection.
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